Keitaro Harada: From Saxophone To Podium The young musician started out playing the saxophone, but the minute he picked up a baton, he knew he wanted to conduct. Watch a video of Harada's transformation.

Watch A Video About Kei Harada

From the Top

Keitaro Harada: From Saxophone To Podium

When we were looking for From the Top alumni to feature during our 10th-anniversary season, 25-year-old Keitaro Harada rose quickly to the top of the list. Though we first met him as a saxophone player, Kei, as he likes to be called, has since pursued the difficult field of conducting. Already a fellow at the University of Arizona, where he regularly conducts the Tucson Symphony and Arizona Opera, Kei is spending the summer at the Tanglewood Music Center. On Aug. 4, he fills in for Maestro James Levine to conduct young professionals in the Tanglewood opera program in their final performance of Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos.

Kei's success is no surprise to those of us who met him nearly seven years ago during a taping of From the Top at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where we learned that his top-notch saxophone playing was almost entirely self-taught. He had recently left his home in Japan to study in the U.S., and he performed with me in a traditional kimono. He had us all rolling with his witty one-liners about the cafeteria at the arts boarding school. Kei thrived at Interlochen, and during the summer of his junior year, he took his first conducting class — and won a competition to lead the school orchestra.

"It was a life-changing moment," he says. "I can't describe the sensation I felt." He says he knew then and there what he wanted to do with his life.

Kei quickly learned that there was no easy path to becoming a conductor. He was unable to study conducting as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, but he was undeterred. He continued with his saxophone studies and found every opportunity to conduct, even traveling to Russia to attend master classes during his winter and summer school breaks. In St. Petersburg, he met Adrian Gnam, the music director of the Macon Symphony Orchestra in Georgia, who invited Kei down to Macon to study with him.

Once he got to Macon, Kei says he realized he needed an orchestra to practice on. So, remarkably, he started one. He built the Mercer/Macon Symphony Youth Orchestra from the ground up.

When he got an opportunity to study at the University of Arizona, Kei made the tough decision to leave Georgia. As my colleague Keith Lockhart says, being a conductor takes a lot of self-starting, imagination and seizing opportunities. Kei brings an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for music to his career, and I know we will continue to see great things from him in the future.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Classical

Ensemble Signal performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 25, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Ensemble Signal Plays Jonny Greenwood

Watch members of the New York-based group give the world premiere video performances of two recent pieces by Radiohead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood.

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider perform a Tiny Desk Concert on March 6, 2019. Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider

Watch what happens when the smoky-voiced jazz singer from Mexico conspires with an adventuresome string quartet for songs steeped in Latin American traditions.

The Calidore String Quartet performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 5, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

The Calidore String Quartet

The Calidore String Quartet confirms that the centuries-old formula — two violins, a viola and a cello — is still very much alive and evolving.

Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 3, 2018 (Cameron Pollack/NPR)/ Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR

Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen

Carolina Eyck, the first artist to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk, plays the air with the kind of lyrical phrasing and "fingered" articulation that takes a special kind of virtuosity.

Anthony Roth Costanzo performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Aug. 10, 2018 (Morgan Noelle Smith/NPR). Morgan Noelle Smith/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Morgan Noelle Smith/NPR

Anthony Roth Costanzo

Watch the ambitious countertenor sing music that spans more than 250 years, connecting the dots between David Byrne, George Frideric Handel and Philip Glass.

George Li performs a Tiny Desk Concert on July 31, 2018 (Eric Lee/NPR). Eric Lee/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eric Lee/NPR

George Li

Watch the young Harvard grad dispatch some of the most "knuckle-busting" piano repertoire with uncommon panache and precision.

Yo-Yo Ma performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 25, 2018 (Samantha Clark/NPR). Samantha Clark/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Samantha Clark/NPR

Yo-Yo Ma

Watch the 19-time Grammy winner return to his lifelong passion for J.S. Bach, playing music from the Cello Suites and offering advice on the art of incremental learning.

The King's Singers perform a Tiny Desk Concert on April 19, 2018 (Eslah Attar/NPR). Eslah Attar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eslah Attar/NPR

The King's Singers

The storied vocal ensemble brings close harmony singing to a diverse set list that includes a Beatles tune and a bawdy madrigal from the 1500s.

Ólafur Arnalds performs a Tiny Desk Concert on July 3, 2018 (Eric Lee/NPR). Eric Lee/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eric Lee/NPR

Ólafur Arnalds

The Icelandic composer is joined by two "ghost" pianists, making mysterious and memorable music at the Tiny Desk.

Back To Top